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All Good Things Must Come to an End

Time January 2nd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

¡Hola todos!

So. I’m back now. In the United States that is. It’s an interesting feeling even now, a bit more than a week after I first stepped back onto US soil in Atlanta. When people bump into me and excuse themselves, as has happened quite often in the last few days, what with all the time at airports and then Christmas shopping, the automatic reflex is still to say “está bien” or “no se preocupe”. It’s just something that’s become ingrained into me. When it happens, I’m not actively thinking about it; it’s become second nature. I also stumble over my English occasionally and throw in random Spanish words when I do manage to get some intelligible out. For example, I can’t for the life of me stop saying también. In addition, things I see here keep reminding me about my experiences in Chile. The transition back to one’s native culture, or reverse culture-shock, as it is called, can be difficult. As they told us in the Re-entry session, things don’t just seem different than when you were last in your home country, they simply are. You are different. Sometimes other people can’t accept that, but you just have to be patient (something you learn to be in Chile, incidentally). It sometime can be difficult to get others to listen to you, though I don’t really have that problem. One of my sisters studied in Chile as well, and my family is generally interested in traveling and different countries and cultures in general, so I don’t have to feel as if I am talking past everyone, but I don’t think everyone is so lucky, unfortunately. Regardless, I think the relationships you have built with the other students on your program can help a lot if this becomes a big problem.

I miss Chile. I really do. I am glad to be back home, to be able to see my family and play videogames and hang out with my friends. But I miss some of the independence I had there, and the opportunities, and the people I met. And my host family, especially my two host brothers. We became good friends over those four and a half months. I learned a lot in Chile, both about myself as a person and about my language skills. I really hope I can succeed at applying all that I learned here and in my next study abroad experience (I’m studying in Russia next semester). I know I will go back. I don’t quite know when, or how, but I know I want to. Of course, life has a way of getting in the way of declarations like that, but I’ll do my best to make sure that doesn’t turn out to be the case.


I traveled after classes ended, and while I don’t think writing out everything in detail is a good idea I don’t really have the time (mostly because, I mean, Christmas cookies are being baked, which means someone has to eat them soon. Only logical). I wanted to share a few pictures. Chile is a beautiful country and the beautiful thing about IFSA-Butler, and studying down here in general, is that you usually have time, at least 2 to 3 weeks, to travel around a bit after classes end and can still make it back home in time for the holidays.

First I went on a 5 day trip to La Serena, a small city on the coast. Well, relatively. It’s a 10 minute walk to the beach from the center of town. Its sister town, Coquimbo, located just 11km down the coast, is a port, but la Serena is much prettier, more pristine and less chaotic than gritty Coquimbo, where the sand from the beaches blows into town, getting into everything. But the bike ride there along the beach is pretty nice. We visited the Valle de Elqui, where the grapes destined for Chilean pisco (Peru has its own and the rightful title to being the inventor of this distilled wine drink) are grown, and where Gabriela Mistral was born and grew up. There was a quite excellent museum dedicated to her in the town of Vicuña, and it was really cheap for students too. In Pisco Elqui, an even smaller town than the already very tiny Vicuña, you can visit the pisco distillery of the Mistral company, makers of high quality pisco (higher quality than Capel, at least). The tour was quite interested if a bit rushed (it’s absolutely not pisco making season yet, so the distillery wasn’t even running, and my friend and I were the only ones on the tour). On our fourth day there we went to la Reserva Nacional Pingüinos de Humboldt, a group of three islands which were a very interesting three hour van ride north of La Serena to the village of Punta de Choros, followed by an hour and a half long boat ride. I’ve included some pictures. There were obviously penguins there, but the Reserva also contains several species of birds and a colony of sea lions, along with bottlenose dolphins in the waters around the islands. Our last day there, we relaxed a bit, visiting some museums and perusing the ferias scattered around town. Our bus left for Santiago at 11:58 in the evening, which gave us plenty of time.

After returning to Santiago, I had about a day to repack all of my stuff, because a day and a half after coming back from La Serena, I was sitting on a plane to Punta Arenas, final destination, Parque Torres del Paine, the heart of Chilean Patagonia.
I arrived in Punta Arenas too late to take the bus to Puerto Natales (the capital of the Province of Última Esperanza, the Last Hope), from where one takes the bus to the Parque. So I stayed the night in a rather sketchy alojamiento, lodging, before taking the bus early the next morning and meeting up with a few friends in Puerto Natales. We left for Parque Torres del Paine around 2:30 and arrived at the entrance around 5. Because all three of us (my friends and me) had our cédulas, our Chilean ID cards, we counted as Chileans when entering the park, which actually saved us 13,000 pesos on the entrance fee (more than 26 dollars!). We took a catamaran to Lodge Paine Grande, where we stayed the night (though it was hideously expensive, packing a tent and sleeping in that would be a much better option, for anyone planning to do this. It’s just that none of the three of us had a tent). The next day we hiked to Glacier Grey (11km) and back in the morning and afternoon. The views were amazing obviously. But I actually liked the views on the other side of the W (the most well-known trail in the Parque, so named because of its W shape on the map – we didn’t have time to hike all of it, which takes 4 to 5 days, so we hiked the two sides) better. We used the catamaran and then took a bus passing through the Parque to get there, then hiked a further two hours to our campsite (this time we rented tents and sleeping bags – much cheaper). Our goal was Torres del Paine, the iconic rock structures (three towering rock peaks) for which the park is named. The next day, after a night of fitful sleep, we got up at 3:30 in the morning in order to attempt to get to the Torres at dawn, which we had heard was the best time to see them. We didn’t quite make it, but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. On the way up (the last 1.5km are almost vertical, the elevation changes from 400 meters above sea level to more than 900 meters above sea level), we passed groups of people making the slow, careful slog back down. We found out why when we reached the base of the towers. They were completely shrouded in mist (it had rained a bit the day before and rain was on the cards for that day as well). But lo and behold, ere we were there for more than 5 minutes, the mists began to recede, offering us an unprecedented view of the three towers. But I thought the views on the way back to the bus stop (where we could get on a bus that would take us to Puerto Natales) were even more impressive, if that’s possible, because you see the whole plain surrounding the mountains laid out in front of you, with its green rolling hills and deep blue lakes. Unfortunately, my camera was dead by this point, because there are unsurprisingly very few electrical outlets found in the campsites. But you’ll just have to go for yourselves!

Enjoy the pictures! Roughly half are from La Serena, the other half, from Patagonia.

And so now I would like to say adios to my readers. I hope you have gotten a glimpse into what is possible here in Chile. Of course I’m not saying that my way of experiencing Chile is the most common or even most popular way, as it’s definitely not, there’s a bunch of other things to do here, and varying ways of involving yourself in the country and culture. Everyone can make their own fortune here, so to say. I also hope I was able to entertain you at least a little bit! ¡Chau! ¡Que les vaya muy bien!


Valdivia, part 3 (and part 4, I guess); also, the end is nigh, seriously

Time December 4th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

¡Hola todos!

Our third day in Valdivia we went to Parque Oncol, which is about an hour or two (I can’t quite remember, all I remember is that it was very bumpy, as the majority of the time we were driving on a dusty gravel road) away from the city. Parque Oncol is a park like many others, really. There are lots of trees and places to hike and camp. About half of the group (me included) decided to go zip lining (which, at 7.000 pesos, or about 14 dollars, wasn’t that expensive), which was really cool, especially because the view there (like basically in all of Chile really, I shouldn’t even have to mention this by now, really) is simply awe-inspiring. Some of the group went hiking for about two hours, but I had twisted my ankle quite badly in my soccer class the Wednesday before we left so I didn’t want to risk it. And it gave me the chance to work on my reading for my Política Exterior essay. Which is to say, take a nap in the blazing sun (don’t worry, I only waited to put my jacket over my face until after I felt my nose start to blister). When they returned from their short trek, we left Parque Oncol the same way we had come (although it took forever for our bus to make it out of the parking lot, which was decidedly tiny). But this time, instead of driving straight back to Valdivia, we stopped at a farm that we had passed on our way to the parque, which belonged to a Mapuche family. I’m not sure if I have written much about the Mapuche, but I will try to give you all a bit of an introduction. The Mapuche are the indigenous people of Chile. They lived there long before the Spaniards came, and even before the Incas. The Incan empire managed to subjugate the very northern parts of Mapuche territory, which is now the north of Chile, coming so far as the valley of the River Mapocho, where Santiago now lies, but only in the few decades immediately prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, and were repulsed in their attempts to penetrate deeper into Mapuche territory. Suffice to say that the Mapuche were a people that had always been free, and although Pedro de Valdivia (who founded Santiago and started the conquest of Chile, and after whom Valdivia is named) managed to push them to below the River Biobio, once he tried to go even forever he was stopped in his tracks (and died at the Battle of Tucapel in 1553, in fact). For almost the entirety of the Colonial period, the Spanish and the Mapuche were involved in a terrible war, whose result was quasi-independence and autonomy for the Mapuche people. After the Chilean independence, things didn’t really improve for the Mapuche however, and in 1861, Chilean military forces invaded the Auracanía, as the Mapuche’s territory was called by the Spanish. The so-called “Pacification of the Auracanía” lasted until 1883 and ended with Chilean control (but not complete, as areas of insecurity still remained long into the 20th century) of the Mapuche territory. The Mapuche, like Native Americans in the United States, are, nowadays, predominantly poor. Their land has been taken from them, their traditions and ways of life destroyed (especially under the Pinochet regime). The Chilean government and the Mapuche are still involved in an on-going conflict regarding their rights, as Chilean citizens and as members of an indigenous people still trying to recapture their heritage (particularly their native language, Mapudungun)
So, back to the farm. It was really cool to talk to the owner and his wife, both of whom were definitely getting on in years (their daughter and granddaughter were there as well). We ate dinner, which consisted of tortillas made in a real hearth (but these weren’t what you would think of as tortillas, they were very thick, more like bread really), traditional Mapuche bread made out of wheat (which grows abundantly in Chile and was once it’s prime export), empanadas with seaweed filling and delicious fried sopaipillas. I definitely ate my fill (and took some leftovers with me for the bus ride back to Santiago). The owner told us about the time when you had to ride on horseback to Valdivia, when everything was so much more rural and took so much longer (it still is very rural, but at least now a micro goes to Valdivia once a week). He told us about the Mapuche shamans, about how they worked, so mysteriously effective (probably because they only took cases that it seemed like they could fix, someone pointed out). He told us that he grew up speaking Spanish because Mapudungun was forbidden in schools (recently efforts have been made to resurrect the dying language, together with the efforts to try to keep alive other traditions of the Mapuche people). His daughter and granddaughter told us about the Mapudungun lessons they take, and about how it is to be Mapuche in current Chilean society (the daughter is an elementary school teacher). They are all proud to be Mapuche.
It was an interesting experience. Definitely eye-opening.

For most of the fourth day we drove back to Santiago. But because we had several short stops planned on the way, we had to leave super early (we had to be in the bus by 7:10 am! Which was something we didn’t actually manage – it was funny, you’d think it would be the girls that would have difficulty getting ready in time, but no, it was definitely us boys that held the whole thing up). Around noon we stopped at the school of which our guide (I’ve forgotten her name, and it’s really bothering me) was the director, together with her husband, who met us there (in fact, they live in a house on school property). While he showed us around, letting us into some of the classrooms and the computer lab and telling us about the history of the school and what they are trying to accomplish there, Isa explained to me that before they came (one has to apply for the directorship in a competitive process, and then one stays in the position for a period of 5 years) the school was very run down and dirty, as the directors of the time had gotten fed up with all the bureaucratic hoops one has to jump through (you can’t even buy toilet paper without consulting the government first), and pretty much gave up. But it looks really nice now, as you can see from the pictures, even with some improvement projects going on. And as it is a Mapuche school, there is a traditional Mapuche house on the school grounds, where they hold all manners of ceremonies so that the children can learn about their heritage. After taking a group picture by the entrance, and dropping off some things we had collected in Santiago for the children there, we got back on the bus. Our only other stop on the way to Santiago was right by the road, near some type of playground. It was really more just a break to stretch our legs and enjoy the views the place offered of the sea, which were of course, ah but you already know what I am going to say. You can see so yourself in the pictures. Although originally scheduled to get back around 11 pm, our little side excursions and some traffic coming into Santiago meant that we didn’t actually get back until well after midnight. But it was well worth it in the end.

And I’m really sorry that report is so short. My memory and all. I mean, what did I eat for breakfast today? No clue.

In other news, I’m done with school. I had my last Spanish class this past Thursday and this coming Tuesday is the Cena de Despedida or Goodbye Dinner. It’s scary really. I have two more weeks in Chile. I don’t think I’m quite ready yet to reflect on my time here; that will probably have to wait until I am back home. All I know is that I wish I had more time here. I don’t fly back until the 16th of December, so I still have some time before I have to return. I’m planning a trip to the city of La Serena and its surroundings in the Norte Chico and then a short excursion to the southern Patagonia, which I’m really, really excited for. I’ve been stuck in a sort of limbo in Santiago since my classes ended, and it’s nice to have something to do again.

Until next time, hopefully with lots of pretty pictures!


Valdivia, part 2, and some other less happy stuff

Time November 26th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The Depressing Part:

“If I had been in charge, I wouldn’t have killed anyone. I would have put them all on an island, and put them to work, planting potatoes, tomatoes, beans. But no, I wouldn’t have killed anyone. Killing them was like a prize.”
My host grandmother, Gloria, lived through the military coup, though she prefers to call it a military pronouncement. On the one week anniversary of my trip on the Human Rights Tours (Tour de los derechos humanos) around Santiago with IFSA-Butler, on which we learned more about the coup and what life was like under the dictatorship, I learned more about the other side of the coin than Isa, who was our guide on the tour, would ever be able to provide. She certainly tried to give both sides of view, those who view it as something that saved the country from anarchy and ruin, and those who see it as the harbinger of the dark years of military rule that would not end until 1990. And it certainly wasn’t her fault. But Isa, who was a student during the military dictatorship at the most radical university in Santiago at the time, simply couldn’t give the same vibrancy to the opposing argument (those in favor of the coup) that my host grandmother was able to give.
She was 28 when the coup happened, she told me. She remembers only bad things under Allende. The lines to buy chicken, where she had to disguise herself in the clothes of her nana (maid) in order for her not to be turned away. The redistribution of land, the workers turning against their owners. She remembers a woman, an Austrian emigrant to whom she was like a daughter, whose family had owned four properties in Santiago itself and a great fundo in Talca. They lost it all under Allende. Another friend of hers owned three properties in Talca. She lived in one of them and rented out the other two. But under Allende, said my host grand-mother, she had to sell the two she did not live in. Gloria, who had been renting one of these houses, bought it, in 1972. But before she was able to move in, government agents (I am actually not quite sure who did this, but she seems to lay the blame squarely at the feet of Allende’s government) came in and took everything of value, from the light switches on the walls to the light bulbs to the locks on the doors. “Gloria, come quick, your house is open and empty,” a friend called her.
It’s interesting, to hear and see, really, the other side presented so fervently, with such conviction.  Obviously there are still quite a lot of Pinochet supporters in Chile, not least because of the eventual economic success the country was able to have toward the end of the gobierno militar. But I, going to university here and meeting mostly other students my age or a bit older, have simply never been exposed to that reality. For her, as she explained to me, it wasn’t really a military coup, it was more of a statement by the military, it was the military protecting the country from itself. It restored peace and order to the country, got rid of the unconstitutional rationing. The people were crying out for it, she said. Those that were exiled, that fled, were cowards, she said. They didn’t flee to the socialist countries, to Cuba or Russia, they fled to Europe, the United States. But she also told me that she had a friend from school that had to flee abroad. She ended up in Spain, where my host grandmother and two other friends of theirs would visit her many years later.
“Fue muy jevy. Muy jevy,” she kept saying, talking about both, I think, the dictatorship and what happened under Allende. And it was very heavy.
What she said didn’t really change my point of view on the military government and Pinochet – which is also a problem, really, a problem many of us share, our inability to really take seriously those stories that go counter to our own beliefs – but it made me realize that there is never only one side to a story.


During the Human Rights Tour, in which we, after talking a bit about the dictatorship at a café at the Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral,  first went to the Cementerio General (which is really beautiful actually, I’m still cursing myself for forgetting my camera. Maybe I’ll get a chance to go back) and then to Villa Grimaldi, which was a clandestine torture and detention center from 1973 to 1978, we got a slightly different interpretation of the events. Like I said, Isa tried to be partial, and to her credit, she did give both views where she could. At Salvador Allende’s tomb, she told us about how difficult his time in office was, how troubled his presidency was by the fact that he only won by a plurality rather than a clear majority. Because Allende didn’t have control of congress, he had to act by decree more than by actually passing laws. Rationing did occur, especially as the economy took a turn for the worse in 1972 and 1973. Strikes crippled the country. But as our trip to Villa Grimaldi showed, the reality of the years after Allende, of course, is that the human rights abuses, especially at the beginning, were terrible. The conditions at Villa Grimaldi were appalling, to say the least. Defenders of the military regime say that such violence was the fault not of a policy of torture and murder developed by the government, but of individual soldiers and officers, but this hardly seems credible, especially as nothing was done to stop it, and it was done on such a large scale. Going to Villa Grimaldi was a very sobering experience. We, those of us born in countries that have been free much longer, are lucky never to have had to experience anything like it.

“Cierre Académico”:

The end is coming. I have realized that. I thought I had seen it coming and accepted it earlier, thought I had planned it all out. But it still hit me like Muhammad Ali’s fist. We had our “cierre académico” on Friday, in which we talked about re-entry shock, and how a lot of things would be different. Our friends and family might say we changed, and not always for the better. It’s difficult, we were told, sometimes much more difficult than one would imagine. As Isa said, the studying abroad experience doesn’t end when one goes home. It goes on.
There obviously still is a little less than a month left. So we have some time still to enjoy ourselves, to try to eek every little bit of experience we can out of our adventure. But the inevitable end is near. It’s funny, really. It doesn’t seem like I have been here for almost 4 months now (only 5 more days and that while be a milestone of the past).
Valdivia, Part 2:
I’m really sorry that this post has been rather depressing so far, so to make up for it, I’ll give a brief summary of my second day in Valdivia and attach some pictures! Fun right?
So on the second day, Saturday the 2nd, we had a boat ride on the river on the agenda. But first, we toured some more of the city, which, though small, really is very nice. Unfortunately, we had to leave around 10:30 to go on the walking tour, which meant that I was 30 minutes into the Arsenal – Manchester United game when we had to go. Arsenal was losing 0 – 1, and things didn’t look pretty (they would go on to lose 1 – 2) , but it’s always a pain to have to tear oneself away. But I did, else they probably would have left without me!
Around noon, we got on the boat. It was a lunch and dinner cruise type of thing, and there were bread rolls waiting for us when we sat down. Luckily, two of the places at the table I was at were empty, so I could eat three relatively unhindered by my conscience. A couple at my table (our group had three tables, they were the only ones who didn’t belong to our group at those three tables) also offered me a sopaipilla, which I eagerly accepted. Then the actual lunch came, which was a chicken drum stick with rice. But that’s enough about food.
The trip on the river was really peaceful, and the view of the surrounding country side absolutely magnificent. Only the weather refused to cooperate, being windy, cool, and toward the end, rainy, in that annoying sprinklingly misty kind of way.
We passed the remains of a ship (the masts mostly, still sticking out of the water) that had been swept inward and sunk by the tsunami of 1960. We also drove buy some abandoned factories, also victims of that earthquake and tsunami double whammy.
But the main purpose of the boat tour was to visit more of the Validivian fortification system (so it was really up my alley, in other words). Our first stop, after floating past Fuerte Niebla, was the central piece of the whole system, the most heavily defended under Spanish control and the last one taken by Chilean troops that 4th of Februrary, 1820, Castillo de San Sebastián de la Cruz Fort. Also, called Corral Fort, it’s located in the town of Corral, which is built on the side of a hill and is quite quaint. The Castillo itself is very large, with many of the original cannons still pointing ominously out to sea.
Although smaller, Castillo de San Pedro de Alcántara on Isla Mancera (a large island in the middle of Corral Bay), the next stop on our journey, was actually more impressive. The Castillo in Corral had been used to store goods for many years before becoming a national monument and so almost none of the original structures (besides the walls) remain. On Isla Mancera, however, one can still see the ruins of many of the buildings, including particularly impressive ones of the church. The former powder magazine (although it was mostly used as a general storage place, built into the ground with only a single grated window in the ceiling that allows light to enter (it really is pitch black down there), is also very striking.
Like always, I could have stayed there for hours (although there was no museum to distract, ruins tend to hold my attention. But really), but we unfortunately had to head back home (it was also starting to rain a bit more noticeably, so perhaps it was all for the best).
On the way back we got sandwiches to eat, which were actually quite … I really need to stop talking about food. Or better yet, I’ll just go eat some. But please, enjoy some pictures while I do so:

¡Hasta luego!


Valdivia, part 1 (of 4?) and the end of the school year is really here

Time November 19th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

¡Hola todos!

November 1st and 2nd, All Saint’s Day and National Day of the Protestant and Evangelical Churches, respectively, are public holidays here in Chile. IFSA-Butler used this opportunity to take us on a 4 day trip to the south of the country, to the capital of the Region of the Rivers, Valdvia.

I took 1272 pictures. It was awesome. From the 12 hour bus ride there to the 15 hour bus ride back to Santiago via a short stop to visit a Mapuche school, the trip was packed to the brim with amazing experiences and breath-taking views. Because the trip was so long and because these next few weeks will be insane, school work wise (we are approaching the end of the semester after all; all of my classes except my Spanish one end by November 23rd), I definitely won’t be able to fit everything into one blog post. I will try, instead, to write it all out piecemeal, to make it more manageable for me and you, my dear reader. But I also realize that, as my mind is fickle thing and my memory no longer what it used to be only a few short years ago, I will forget things, will forget probably critical information, will forget details. Some of the events are already fading into the mists of obscurity that cloud my memory, and I just came back yesterday (obviously this part was written a while ago! It’s even worse now, two weeks later). I hope you will forgive me and hope you will be able to make do with what I do, in fact, remember.

We left Santiago on Wednesday the 31st, around 11 pm. I had done basically all of my packing in the few hours before. I just stuffed a lot of clothes into a duffle bag, packed some toiletries and filled my backpack with a lot of homework that I didn’t look at until the last two hours of the drive back to Santiago. Two quick points. First, I stupidly did not take IFSA-Butler’s advice to take a backpacking backpack to Chile. Bad idea. Traveling is much, much easier that way. My duffle bag was probably one of the more unwieldy pieces of luggage anyone took on the trip. Second, I packed way too many clothes. I had looked up the weather beforehand, which was a step in the right direction (Although I was a Boy Scout, I’m usually known more for my lack of planning rather than for being prepared), but I overestimated how much I would actually need, which in reality wasn’t that much. The trip was only four days, after all. Anyways, I digress.

I had planned on doing homework on the 10 to 12 hour (depending on traffic coming out of Santiago, it was a holiday after all) ride, but I sharply underestimated my ability to fall asleep when it is dark out, which I promptly did, and remained that way for almost the whole ride. We arrived in Valdivia, which is located on the spit of land between two rather wide rivers, the Río Calle-Calle and the Río Cau-Cau, which unite to form the Río Valdivia, around 11 am the next day. We ate a buffet breakfast at a restaurant before taking a walking tour around the city (our guide, a friend of Isa’s and director of the Mapuche school we visited later on our journey had actually already joined up with us in Santiago). Valdivia really is not that large, and there were definitely not as many people walking around the streets as there would be Santiago, although this could have been because the 1st was a holiday. We went to the Anwandter house and – oh my mind has already slipped. I forgot to explain that Validivia is a town with a rich German heritage (it is known for its German style kuchen deserts and also beers, but more about that later) due to campaigns by the Chilean government at the end of the 19th century to bring German immigrants to the area, offering them land and Chilean citizenship as an incentive for coming to Chile (as I learned in my Chilean Foreign Policy class, Germans were considered particularly good  immigrants due to their reputation as well organized, hard workers willing to assimilate to their host culture). The Anwandters opened up a famous brewery in Validivia, but their business was unfortunately destroyed by the great tsunami and earthquake of 1960 (which really had a huge impact on the area and the city in particular, completely destroying several coastal villages and severely damaging Valdivia. The earthquake which caused it is, at 9.5, the largest ever recorded).

Afterwards we went to the market by the river, which boasted almost every type of vegetable or fruit imaginable, a lot of fish, clams and mussels, and even some seaweed on sale. We had earlier decided to cook and eat together that night, as it would be cheaper, and so bought lots of the vegetables we would need.
After leaving the market, we were finally able to drop off our things at our hotel, which turned out to be made up of small apartments that could sleep four each (they had two floors! On the first floor was the kitchen and living room, and on the second room there were two bedrooms and the bathroom). Because there are only three boys in the program, we got an apartment (this type of hotel is usually called a cabaña here) to ourselves.

Our next stop was a park on the grounds of the Universidad Austral de Chile, the largest university in Validiva, which is actually known as being one of the larger student centers in Chile, which isn’t really saying all that much because of how Santiago really sucks in the majority of Chile’s higher education. We walked around for a while and just enjoyed the nice weather (we were lucky; it usually rains constantly in Valdivia, but it only rained once during our four days there, and then not even that much. It’s also much cooler in the south, so we were able to escape the heat wave that enveloped Santiago while we were gone).
After leaving the park, we went to the Castillo de la Pura y Limpia Concepción de Monfort de Lemus, also simply known as Fuerte, or Castillo Niebla (much easier to say). It was part of the Spanish fortification system constructed in the 1700s to protect Corral bay (and thereby Valdivia, as it was the only way to access the city, which was, and still is, surrounded by Mapuche land) from pirates and English and Dutch privateers. Because of its fearsome reputation (the cross fire from the various forts and castillos would have been murderous) it was never actually attacked until the Chilean war of independence. Because the south of Chile was a Royalist stronghold, O’Higgins, leader of the Chilean army, wanted Valdivia out of the way. He hired Admiral Thomas Cochrane, a former British Admiral, to form the new Chilean navy. Knowing that a frontal assault would be suicidal, he managed to take the fort system through a very ingenious, non-confrontational manner, disguising his three ships as Spanish vessels (by flying the Spanish flag and making advantage of the heavy fog the area is known for [Niebla means fog in Spanish]). By the time the Spanish had realized that these were not, in fact, their ships, it was too late and 350 Chilean troops had already landed. They proceeded to roll up the fort line on the opposite side of the bay from Fuerte Niebla, taking the principal fortress, Castillo de San Sebastián de la Cruz Fort late on the fourth of February, 1820. Although they expected to have to fight hard the next day to take the forts on the other side of the bay, they discovered, upon waking, that the Spanish troops had abandoned the fortifications and retreated to Valdivia, which fell soon afterward.
Anywho, the fort was awesome. I love history, and especially military history, and this definitely ticked all the right boxes. Unfortunately we did not have a lot of time in the small, but quite excellent museum located in a reconstructed building (most of what was left consisted of ruins more than anything else, though seven of the original cannons did remain. The other seven were taken by Lord Cochrane as loot and payment for his services).

After leaving the fort, we went to the Cervecería Kunstmann, which is the virtual, if not direct, successor of the Anwandter family’s brewing business. They have a restaurant and a very, very small museum, which is quite interesting despite its tininess and even has some rather random pictures of Validiva before and after the terremote (earthquake) and maremoto (means shaking water, I assume).

After coming home, we all worked together to cook dinner, which consisted of huge amounts of vegetable stir-fry with chicken. It was delicious.

Last Sunday, the 11th of November, I went to my host brother’s first communion. Because it was at his colegio, I got to see his school, which is rather nice actually, as much as an enclosed compound can be (it has to be though, it’s in the center of a city after all). Also, from the fact that the first communion was celebrated there (in the gymnasium, by the way. The chapel would have been too small for all the people), you can probably tell that it’s a religious school (equivalent of a so-called Catholic school in the United States, probably), with its own priest, Padre Jaime. Who, incidentally, used the homily to admonish the parents of the celebrants of the first communion for never or only rarely going to church themselves, which actually is quite a problem in Chile (for the Catholic Church at least). The vast majority of Chileans identify as Catholic, but only a small part of that group actually attends church regularly. Padre Jaime talked about the need for parents to be a good role model and educate them in the ways of the Catholic faith, which was quite interesting because that was literally what we had spent the last week talking about in my Matrimonio, Familia y Sexualidad class.

Oh I forgot to talk about the Tour de los Derechos Humanos that we did on the 9th! Shoot. That will have to wait till next time; I really wanted to put something up today.
Also, I told you all I was busy: I started writing this blog on the 5th, almost immediately upon coming back to Santiago, but I didn’t have time to finish it until now. And it’s only one day! I may try to combine days two, three and four into one post, which would be easier for me and probably for you all too. It would mean trimming some things down, but what’s necessary is necessary! Also, quick note on being busy. It’s actually a lot like the US, where things really heat up at the end of the semester, but I would say it’s even more of a shock to the system than it is there, because you do so little here besides simply listen to lectures during the greater part of the semester (but then again, that’s based on my experience at a very small college, everyone’s experiences are different!). It’s also interesting that there seem to be no final exams, at least in the classes I am taking. I mean, the final test is really the “final exam,” but although there is an official exam period at la Católica that extends until the first week of December, nobody I know actually has an exam during this time.

¡Chao for now!


A Quite Action-Packed Two Weeks

Time October 23rd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

¡Hola todos!

Heads up folks, this post is going to be massive. A lot of interesting things have happened in the past two weeks, and I can’t help sharing them with you! I have helpfully divided it into sections.

Part 1, where the ground shakes:

Thursday the 11th, I experienced my first “temblor,” as the locals call it. I was sitting in my Spanish class, and we were sharing and discussing news pieces we had brought, as we do every Thursday, when all of a sudden it began to rumble. At first, I thought it had to be plane or something, but then the ground really began to shake. I jumped up, I have to admit, as did practically all of the rest of our class (except for one of us, she got under her desk; she’s from California, so she knew what she was doing). The rest of us didn’t really know what to do, because even though IFSA-Butler had given us a detailed presentation of the subject of earthquakes during orientation, it’s the kind of thing you think will never happen and so forget about quickly. Half of us stayed where we were, the other half sort of made for the door, which either sprang open on its own or our professor opened it, before he got a judge for how strong it would be, I can’t quite remember (I do remember that outside there was a Chilean student peacefully microwaving his lunch, as if nothing was happening). Luckily for us, a) we were in a really solidly built lecture hall and b) our professor is Chilean, so he realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t going to be that strong. And after 10 or 20 seconds it was all over, and we got back to work.
My professor judged it at a 5.2, and the two women from our program who came around to check on us said it had to be around 5.5, but I learned later that it was actually a 5.7 on the Richter scale.

I talked about the temblor at lunch that Sunday with the Cuca (who the family had brought back from Talca on Sunday, having gone there to attend a wedding), who told me how in the earthquake of 2010, which was an 8.8, they had to hold funeral services in the very cemeteries where the victims were to be interred, because the majority of the churches had been destroyed. It’s interesting, because everyone seems to remember exactly what they were doing that day in February. On the day of the temblor, when I came home, Seba asked me how I had reacted, and then we talked about earthquakes in general a bit. I asked him where he had been in 2010, and he proceeded to tell me what had happened, to the exact detail. Later that evening, my other host brother Benja also came to ask me how the temblor had gone, and I asked him too, and he also remembered, telling me how afterwards there was no electricity and so they all huddled together in the living room with a flashlight or two, while their father went to look for batteries for their radio (and “actually a radio,” he added, after thinking for a bit, “we didn’t actually have a radio”), even though he was only 8 at the time.

The earthquake has come up quite a lot recently, actually, including during our trip to Isla Negra and Pomaire this past weekend. But more about that later. Let’s go in chronological order, else I’ll lose all semblance of order to my thoughts and will be more likely to go eat some grilled chicken (my family is having an asado, or grilling get-together-thing, currently) than finish this blog post.

Part 2, where the air is thick with Hope and Chanting:

This past Tuesday, the 16th, I and four other students from the IFSA-Butler program went to the World Cup 2014 qualifier between Argentina and Chile. The decision was made on somewhat of a whim really. Three of us were in Isa’s (our program director) office the Thursday prior talking about our Spanish class and looking at examples of magazines that would be our final project in the class, when we somehow got to talking about the game. After a little bit of deliberation and after looking at what tickets were still available and at what price, we decided that we couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Our tickets ended up costing 24,200 pesos, or around $50, but, living in the United States, you don’t often get the chance to see two of the world’s best national soccer teams play. The cheapest tickets, at 13,200 pesos, had already been sold out, but Isa told us that those seats could be slightly more dangerous than the ones we eventually chose, because of their cheap price and location in the stadium. The stadium, by the way, was the Estadio Nacional, or National Stadium, which is actually home to the Universidad de Chile soccer team and can seat 59,980. Interesting fact: after the coup d’etat, it was used as a detention facility by forces of the military junta.

In the end, however, security wasn’t an issue at all. Rodrigo, our Spanish professor (we had class before the game) warned us to be very careful and to leave valuables (like my camera) at home. I wanted to take pictures, so I didn’t exactly follow his advice, but I encountered no problems at all, whatsoever. There was obviously quite a strong police presence at the entrance to clamp down on any possible trouble, but they seemed rather superfluous, based on my experience.

Three of us got there about an hour and a half before the game was to start. Rodrigo had told us that in order to get the best seats, you had to get there at least two hours early, but we all experienced some delays. In the end, however, it didn’t end up affecting our experience very drastically. Obviously, the best seats closest to the field were taken, but we found some higher up that in fact allowed us to see the game better as a whole. The fact that one did have to arrive relatively early, however, was reinforced by the fact that when the remaining two members of our party arrived, around 15 minutes before the game was due to start, there were no seats left at all. Only because we had been saving them seats for the past hour did they have a place to sit.

But I’m getting ahead of myself again. Because they didn’t allow us to bring water bottles into the stadium, the first thing we did when we entered the stadium proper was look for a place to buy water. Much to our shock, we quickly found out that they weren’t actually selling any at any of the snack stands in our section of the stadium. Coke, at 1000 pesos (about $2) for a regular cup, was actually pretty cheap for a stadium, but water was nowhere to be found. Our two friends that came later were able to successfully bring in one bottle of water, which served to placate some parched throats.

The atmosphere in the stadium was incredible. Even in the hour before the game started, the Chilean fans were chanting and cheering. There was a small section of Argentinean fans, separated from the Chileans to avoid any potential conflict, but you could barely hear them above the roar of the home crowd. This changed, as it often does in soccer, when the Argentineans scored their second goal and the home fans became much quieter, but up to that point that amount of noise in the stadium was simply tremendous. My two favorite chants were the classic Chile chant, which goes: “C-H-I! L-E! Chi, chi ,chi! Le, le, le! Vamos Chile!”, and another one which I heard for the first time there: “Vamos, vamos chilenos, esta noche tenemos que ganar.” I really liked the melody of the last one. Besides chants, people were yelling curse words at the top of their lungs. At opposing players, simply because they were opposing players, at their own players, for missing a pass or making any mistake at all, and at the referees, for what they perceived to be their general awfulness (so nothing new, really). I even saw a man who was sitting with his two very young sons scream some (some? Who am I kidding, it was a constant stream of them) obscenities. But such is fútbol.

Chile ended up losing the match 2 to 1. Even though they played very well and put the Argentinean players under constant pressure in the first twenty minutes or so, two pieces of individual skill in rapid succession, first by Lionel Messi and then Gonzalo Higuain, put Chile into a hole it couldn’t climb out of. They eventually scored a goal in stoppage time at the end of the game, but it unfortunately proved to be nothing more than a consolation. Although the crowd tried to get behind the team, the atmosphere was severely muted after Argentina went 2-0 up. But the cheering upon Chile’s goal was something to behold. It wasn’t enough though, and all it did was make Chile’s third loss in a row a little easier to bear.

Getting home afterward was also rather uneventful. Like I said above, I never felt unsafe during my whole time there. It was a simply awesome experience, one which could have only been improved by a Chilean victory.

Part 3, where we visit the house of the Poet and the village of Clay:

This weekend, the other students from IFSA-Butler here in Santiago and I went on an IFSA-Butler organized trip to Casa de la Isla Negra, Neruda’s third house, and his personal favorite, and Pomaire, a village about 45 minutes outside of Santiago known for its pottery and, more recently, its empanadas.

We left from Baquedano around 10 am. I wasn’t able to take as many pictures of the journey as I usually do because I, like practically everyone else on our bus, decided that it was a prime opportunity to take a nap (the past few weeks have been exhausting, what with all the going out at night and sporting events and all, and a bit of schoolwork on the side, obviously …).

Our first stop was Isla Negra, which, besides inspiring the name of Pablo Neruda’s house, is actually the name of the town where the house is located (which in turn is part of the greater El Quisco area). Before we all fell asleep on the ride there, Isa told us a bit about it, and why it is so important. Contrary to what the name suggests (Black Island), it’s not actually an island. Rather, it is a series of beaches a little to the south of Valparaíso. Over time the area of El Quisco (and Isla Negra in particular) has come to be a prime vacation spot for middle and lower class Chileans, especially due to its proximity to Santiago and the fact that it is general cheaper to vacation there than in Valpo or Viña. Isa told us that it’s almost impossible to drive on the main road (on which we drove and of which I included a picture) in the summer; it’s easier to walk because there are so many cars. The vacationers stay in cabañas, which can go from being quite luxurious to basically just four walls. These cabañas are often owned by companies and corporations, who rent them, or award them, to their own employees as vacation spots. This has helped lead the popularity of the area, because lower class residents of Santiago usually aren’t able to afford going to other places. Also, although Chile has a very, very long coastline, it doesn’t actually have all that many good beaches. Atlantic type beaches, with wide and broad expanses of sand are rather rare, and the beaches that do exist, while sandy, are often quite rocky as well. Because of this, beaches are often jam-packed during the summer, with hardly any room to move. An interesting thing I learned was that Chilean beaches are, as best I understood, perhaps because of the limited space available, public property, meaning that you can’t limit access to them. Even beach resorts can’t mark off areas of the beach, and in fact, people have gotten in trouble with the state for trying to extend beach front property onto the beach proper.

We arrived at the Casa de la Isla Negra around 12:00, but our tour didn’t start until 12:30 so we hung out on the patio outside of the visitor center. It had been a rather ugly day on Friday, and the forecast had said that it would be cloudy, but fortunately for us it was really nice. The sun shone just enough so that the breeze coming the sea was cool and relaxing and not cold and bothersome.

Like his other two houses, la Casa de la Isla Negra is built to mimic the feeling of being on a boat. The rooms are generally rather narrow, the doors are small and there are lots of windows. Also like his other two houses, it houses many of the items that he collected, for he was an avid collector. Unique to this house, however, are the numerous ships’ figureheads, as well as his insect and butterfly collection (he loved scarab beetles, as they reminded him of his childhood) and his ship in a bottle collection. There are a lot of items in the house, in fact, that hark back to his childhood and especially his father, whom he held in high regard, however much he set himself against his son’s literary career. The house is very long and, if viewed from above, rather thin, often only a room wide, which led Neruda to say that it was like Chile. It contains a breathtaking mural of stones and minerals executed by a friend of his, for whom he wrote a poem (she actually did mural work in all three of his houses). The view of the sea from the house is quite amazing as well, especially from his bedroom and the smallest room of the house, at the very end, in which he loved to write on a table made from a piece of driftwood the ocean brought him as a present one day.

It was in this house that Neruda became ill, under the double shock of being diagnosed with prostate cancer and the coup d’etat. He died in a medical facility in Santiago on September 23rd, 1973. Casa de la Isla Negra was his favorite house, in which he lived with Matilde Urrutia (his third wife) longer than in any of his other houses. In his autobiography Confieso que he vivido (I Confess I Have Lived) he asks to be buried there, facing the sea. The authorities, however, prohibited this; it was not until 1992 that he and Matilde could be laid to rest together, so close to the sea that he loved so much.

After taking an audio-guided tour of the house, we went down to the beach below the house to eat lunch and enjoy the sea air. I also bought an alfajor (I included a picture of it in the gallery, it’s the chocolatey thing) at a stand just outside the museum. Alfajors are traditional Chilean cookies, consisting of two biscuits with a layer of manjar (Chilean dulce de leche) between them, covered in chocolate. They are delicious.

The sound of the waves crashing on the rocks was very soothing. Isa found some mussels and showed them to us (saying empanadas with them are delicious. Will have to try that some day), and we just sat on the rocks, watching the waves come in. We had to go back to the bus too soon, really. I could have stayed there forever.

It was about a half hour ride to Pomaire, the village of potters and clay, as it is known. Indeed, almost every Chilean knows about Pomaire and its famous greda (clay). What they probably do not know, however, is that Pomaire is dying. Isa explained that the artisans are facing stiff competition from mass produced goods that come from all over the world. The potters were protected relatively well, in the economic sense, under the ISI (import-substitution industrialization, which is where a country tries to replace foreign imports through domestic products via tariffs and the subsidizing and nationalizing of domestic industries) policies of the 1960s and 70s. But after the collapse of such economic policies (Chile, the pioneer of ISI, was actually also the first to discontinue it for more the more liberal idea of opening markets) and the implementation of general economic openness (the aperture) under the government of Pinochet, this changed. Now it’s actually cheaper to import from places such as China, where pottery goods are mass produced, than to buy them in Chile.

Also, the idea of working together, to collude (although that word has a negative connotation, it can serve to keep prices at a sustainable level for the workshops), isn’t there. The idea of a fair price and staying faithful to that price to protect the rest sounds nice on paper, but all of the small enterprises are feeling the pressure, and so they underbid one another, not realizing that sometimes selling more pieces does not mean more profit in the long run.

Among the Chilean upper class, there is heightened interest lately in so called “ethnic” goods, and they will often pay exorbitant prices for pottery from Pomaire but will generally only buy from certain already well-established workshops, so the money doesn’t filter down to the majority of the pottery makers in Pomaire. This reality is complicated by the fact that stores that cater to the rich often buy pottery for very cheap and then sell it at much higher prices. The difference almost never makes it back to the pomairiños.

Complicating this sobering reality even further is the fact that the corporation that owns the highway (almost everything is privately owned in Chile) that provides access to Pomaire has put tolls in place on either side of the town. You only have to pay once going in one direction, but it still means that you have to pay a toll coming from Santiago to Pomaire and then again coming from the sea to Pomaire. For a town that absolutely depends on the tourism industry, this has had crippling consequences.

Once in Pomaire, we stopped at the house of a friend of Isa’s, Marisol, who has her own taller (workshop). They got to know each other in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, when students from IFSA-Butler worked hard to help the many pomairiños in need; the earthquake had struck the town hard. Before she showed us her workshop and how she worked, we drank mote con huesillos (traditional Chilean drink. It’s very sweet, usually from peaches, and mixed with fresh cooked husked wheat. It’s quite delicious) while she told us a bit more about Pomaire and her own business.

Pomaire means “place of thieves” in one of the indigenous languages because of the natural protection the hills give the area. The art of pottery making goes back a long, long time. Marisol told us about her mentor, who taught her, who had died only a few weeks ago, at more than a 100 years of age (officially she was 96, but that age only goes back to the day she was registered and she wasn’t registered until she was 7 or 8), and who had told her about going to get clay with her own father when she was small. She runs her business from the internet, sending her product all over Chile and even starting to send it abroad. It’s not cost effective to have an actual store, she told us, especially because of the for her infuriating tendency of tourists to just browse and not buy anything, which means she wouldn’t be able to guess how much money she could bring in, and if she had made too much or too little. She also explained that another aspect of her line of work that makes it so precarious is that customers pay after receiving the goods, and while they may promise to pay as soon as possible, payments sometimes arrive weeks late. Marisol also told us about the one time she saw one of her plates that she would sell straight from her workshop for 4,000 pesos in a store for around 20,000 pesos (which only served to reinforce how little of what some stores sell pottery goods for actually makes it back to the maker). In addition, the owner of the store told her that her work was extremely good quality but that the problem was that her name was not prestigious enough, and not “masterful” enough, and that it would be difficult for her to become known under her real name (her full name is Marisol Labarca Guzmán; he told her to either go with just Marisol Guzmán or to say her name was Marisol de Labarca, as both sounded more Spanish).

Her workshop, which was in a large shed-type building behind the house, housed an amazing number of pieces of pottery. They were simply all over the place. She showed us where she was storing an order from a restaurant that she was still working on, telling us that most of her orders nowadays come from restaurants. Most of her work is finished in black, a color she achieves by burning dry cow manure in the kiln after the pottery pieces are almost done. She told us that if you used cow manure that was still wet, you run the risk of your pottery still smelling and tasting like cow manure! After showing us first how she polished the pieces, she allowed us to make our own attempts at making a small bowl. I failed miserably, as my piece became unstuck from the turning table (which we had to operate with our feet!) But it was a lot of fun. It’s amazing first how difficult something that seems so simple can actually be, and second, how pottery makers like Marisol can work so long and so precisely. She often works all day she said. Obviously she cannot do everything herself and so hires assistants, but they are not always reliable (Isa told us that they are paid by day, and some therefore often drink so much over the weekend that they are too drunk to work Mondays) or sometimes just do the work a bit differently. Marisol has a polisher working for her, but the restaurant for whose order she is currently working on told her that while the polisher’s work was good, they could tell the difference and wanted her to complete the rest, which instantly increased her workload.

After that, we walked across town to the workshop of Marisol’s father-in-law, who produces huge vases and jars. He was working on a medium sized one (its height would be 80 centimeters he said) when we came over. After showing us his kiln and the place where he mixes his clay (the clay they use is a mixture of two types of clay from different parts of the town), she led us back through the more touristy part of town, where there were lots of people selling clay goods, along with lots of people selling empanadas too. I forgot to mention this earlier, but Pomaire is also known for its empanadas, and especially for their humongous size (it is the hometown of the one kilo empanada). During the trip through town, we saw some signs of the earthquake that had so devastated the area two years ago. Because so many houses were made of adobe, many of them collapsed completely. Warehouse full of pots and jars were lost that day.

After coming back to Marisol’s house, we ate empanadas that she had made. And while they weren’t enormous in size, they were gigantic in flavor. We praised them to no end while we scarfed them down; the secret was in not washing your hands before preparing the dough, she joked. I ate four and probably could have eaten more, not necessarily because I was hungry, but because they simply tasted so good. We ate them with pebre, a sort of Chilean pico de gallo salsa made from herbs and very finely diced tomatoes, which made it the first time I’d eaten empanadas with any type of sauce at all, but it just seemed to fit. After letting the food settle for a bit, we bid our farewells and piled back onto the bus (which had some difficulty getting back out of the village due to the narrow streets).

We got back to Santiago around 8:40 pm, full, satisfied and content. The trip, like the previous trips with IFSA-Butler, had been a rich and fulfilling experience.

Enjoy the pictures!

That’s all for now, chao, ¡hasta luego!


Half Done? Also: Daily Life

Time October 8th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

¡Hola todos!

I realized today that I have about two months and two weeks left in Chile. Half of my time here has already gone by, like a breeze really, but thinking about it has made me realize how much I still want to do, how much I still need to work on. But two months is a long time! So we’ll see how I feel at the end.

Not much exciting has happened lately (bar everything of course, as simply being in Chile is incredibly exciting), so this post will most likely take the form of a rather random assortment of cuentos and anécdotas. I’m going to tell you a bit about my most recent adventure last weekend and a bit about my classes here. Also, I want to make good on my promise to talk a bit more about my host family. But let’s not get too crazy here.

Last Sunday, I originally wanted to go to the Museo de Santiago, which I had read about in the guidebook I bought in the frantic days before I left for Chile. Unfortunately, at the Santiago Tourism office (Short story: I asked the man working there for a map, in Spanish. Then he asked me where I was from. I responded, in Spanish. And then he explained everything in halting English. I was a tad peeved) I learned that it, along with the Museo de Arte Precolumbiano (which I also wanted to visit) was closed for renovations this year. So I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo or MAC in Spanish), instead. It was very nice, but not all that big. The area around it is simply extraordinary, though.

And speaking about extraordinary, after I had wandered through all the galleries the MAC had to offer, I went to Cerro (hill in Spanish) Santa Lucía, near the museum. I had actually wanted to go to the Museo de Artes Visuales, but the cerro, which was on the way there, simply caught my eye. I’d passed it a few times before, but never with enough time to actually go exploring. On a whim, and because the day, which had started very cloudy and rather cool, had gotten much better, I decided to leave the Museo de Artes Visuales for another day and check out the cerro instead. And boy am I glad I did. The view of Santiago from the top is quite astounding, and offers a better panorama than that on offer at Cerro San Cristóbal, even though the latter is higher (and even though the latter offers a better view of Santiago as a whole. But let’s not get into semantics here). In terms of the hill itself, San Cristóbal doesn’t hold a candle to Santa Lucía, though saying that is a bit unfair because Santa Lucía is actually also an official park. It’s really beautiful, with a lot of quite old and worn down stairs (seriously. A bunch of them are actually blocked off due to safety risk) leading toward the top. For a hill in the middle of the city, it’s also very nicely wooded, with a lot of beautiful plants as well – though I did learn that it wasn’t always the way it is now. In 1872, the hill was renovated and made more accessible as part of the general beautification of Santiago initiated at the time by the then mayor of Santiago, Benjamín Vincuña Mackenna. It was also at this time that the chapel at the top of the hill, which, due to the deteriorating state of some of the stairs, is no longer accessible to the public, was built. I took a lot of pictures walking around the hill! I hope you can get an idea of how pretty it is up there.

This Wednesday I have a test in my Doctrina Social de la Iglesia (Social Doctrine of the Church) class. Tuesday the 16th of October I have another test in my Matrimonio, Familia y Sexualiad en la Bibila y en la Enseñanza de la Iglesia (Matrimony, Family and Sexuality in the Bible and the Teaching of the Church) class. And this past Monday I had to present an idea for an essay to my Política Exterior Contemporánea de Chile (Contemporary Foreign Policy of Chile) class. I didn’t actually know about the latter until I came to class, which made it rather … exciting. Well, I knew I had to have thought of a topic for my essay, but not that I would have to present it to the class and give the sources I would use. As you can see, things are picking up quite a bit, much like they do in the United States at this time. There are about two more months left this semester, and the professors seem to want to get some work in. I’m not complaining too much, it keeps me busy.

All of my classes, except for my Spanish class – which is offered through IFSA-Butler – and my soccer class – for obvious reasons – are lecture based, which also means they are not that difficult, unless you get a professor that is very hard to understand. My Chilean foreign policy professor, for example, doesn’t stop talking throughout the whole class time, which would be difficult enough to follow even if he didn’t also have a very, very strong accent. It’s hard to pick out what he thinks is important. I have no problem understanding my two Theology professors, however. But I did have quite a shock about two weeks ago in my Matrimony class. I had my first test about the material we had covered in class (I had earlier in the semester taken a test that covered just the readings, something that seems quite popular here, because it happened in my foreign policy class as well), and the question simply did not reflect what we had talked about in class at all. I think part of the problem is that it is the professor’s teaching assistants who actually make the test, and they make that test from the professor’s notes, not from actually being in class. Thus it was that on test day one of the TAs looked at all 80 of us very perplexedly and asked, “So you never actually learned about the rules of human communication?” I’m really dreading the results of that one.

I’ve settled into a nice rhythm in my house. I’m independent and can generally come and go as I please. At the same time, when I want to – which is more often than not – I can do things with my host family, but I don’t have to, which is good too. I really like my host family, and they, especially the two boys, really do treat me as a member of the family. The three of us watched the Real Madrid vs. Barcelona game today, which was a whole lot of fun. Benja and I are Barcelona (and therefore Messi) fans, while Seba is a Real Madrid (and therefore Cristiano Ronaldo) fan. Luckily, the match, which was a quite an enthralling affair, ended in a 2-2 draw, with both of the aforementioned players scoring a brace, so both sides were happy. Talking about soccer, it is really, really popular here (which is good because it’s my favorite sport). All the collegios seem to have some form of soccer pitch, even if they are small and made of concrete.

Quick side note: Today it is raining quite seriously, and has been since yesterday morning. I checked the weather forecast, and it’s actually not supposed to stop raining until Monday morning, which is very surprising. It hardly ever rains here in Santiago. Most of the time it’s either sunny or cloudy, and when it does actually rain, it’s usually more of a misting or sprinkling. I was going to go the Ekono on the corner of the street to buy myself a chocolate bar (I have a real hankering for chocolate at the moment), but I’ll probably save that for a nicer day.

That’s all for now! ¡Hasta la próxima vez!



Fiestas Patrias, Part 2

Time September 20th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

¡Hola todos, otra vez!
I must say, when I said in the previous post that I would probably write another sometime this week, I didn’t think it would be this soon. But today’s events, and pictures, are just begging to be shared.

So on Tuesday, after finally finishing the previous post in the morning, I was planning on visiting some museums, in order to make the most of my days off from school. I even made a list and everything. But then my host mom informed that it’s a work holiday too, which means nothing would be open. And sure enough, once I actually started checking the hours of all the museums I was interested in visiting, they were all closed the 18th and the 19th. This put a serious crimp in my plans, and after finding that out, I pretty much set about moping around in my room and watching tv shows. Very effective problem solving, I know. But after lunch (my host mom made homemade cheese empanadas. I ate 5), my host brother Seba (Benja is with his dad until Wednesday) invited me to play PS3. He had bought it the day before, though his mom only let him do it if he bought her a TV that cost half as much as the PS3. Needless to say, he went through with it. He now has zero money, a fact that he spent half of the day lamenting. The other half he spend excited out of his mind about finally having a PS3. But this post is not about a gaming console. While we were playing, Gloria came in and said that the Santibanez (the grandmother had come up from Talca for las Fiestas Patrias) were going to a fonda to celebrate el Dieciocho and told Seba to get ready, which he didn’t. She asked me if I would like to go with them, and at first I was tempted to say no, for a very stupid reason (Champions League soccer!). But after some thinking I realized that this was an amazing opportunity, and that soccer could wait. So I told them I would very much like to accompany them and went downstairs to get changed. By the time I got upstairs … Seba still hadn’t changed. We ended up playing for another half hour before leaving, which was really fun actually, though quite frustrating for Gloria (though I must say, it took her another ten minutes to get ready after Seba and I had turned off the PS3. Mothers are the same everywhere, I guess).

We went to the fonda in Parque Padre Hurtado, which had actually only been recently renamed thus. It used to be called Parque Intercomunal de la Reina, which is how Gloria and her friend Tia (Tia is what children here call adults that they know, or are friends of their parents, it literally means aunt) Anni, whom we picked up on our way into the parque. I think Anni and Gloria work there, because we didn’t have to pay anything to enter or park the car (and I know for a fact that the usual entrance fee is 4000 because on Monday some girls from IFSA went there), and they seemed to know a lot of the other people working there. Also, both of them were joking about being rompefilas (something akin to people who ditch in lines). We arrived around 4:30, and Seba and I split off from the women (Gloria, Anni and la Cuca, the grandmother), but not before Gloria gave Seba 3000 pesos to spend (he didn’t have any money of his own, after all, remember?). This would come into play very soon. But first we walked through a series of exhibitions by the Chilean Armed Forces. Each branch had their own tent, filled with things pertaining to that branch. In the carabinero’s tent there was a table with examples of various illegal substances. In the Military School’s tent there was a Humvee with a machine gun. In the Army’s tent there was an Armored Personal Carrier and other military equipment. And so on. Seba and Benja had already been there last week (this particular fonda  had opened quite a while ago), and Seba had already told me that he had asked as many questions as he could about the military, which he, being twelve, wants to join when he grows up. But he had forgotten to ask if they accepted asthmatics (which he is) at the Military School. I reminded him that he wanted to ask, and watching him screw up the courage to ask was almost heartbreaking, as was the relief when one soldier told him an unequivocal yes, and his attempt to rationalize the response of the second soldier he asked, who told him that he couldn’t answer that question because he didn’t know exactly, but that asthma could be very dangerous.

After this, we walked around searching for somewhere where he could spend the money (his words) his mother had given him. We walked past several small outdoor restaurants selling empanadas, choripanes and anticucho (meat on a stick), but it all looked too expensive. Then, however, we stumbled (though drawn by the magnificent aroma is more like it) upon a stall selling Argentinean chocolates. I don’t really know what’s so special about Argentinean chocolates, but it seemed to be a big deal because it was rather pricey. We eventually bought 6000 pesos worth of chocolate and proceeded to stuff our faces until we both felt quite sick. But wonderful at the same time, if that makes sense. The chocolate also made us quite thirsty, and so we decided to go looking for his mom, to ask her for the keys to the car, where we had left a lunch box with some drinks.

We didn’t find her for a while, but this allowed us to see quite about of the fonda, which was simply huge. We eventually found our way to a rodeo type area that was absolutely packed with people (as you can see in the pictures). We watched a horse show that reflect the history and traditions of Chile for a bit (Cuca would later tell us that it they were dancing the cueca on horseback), but ultimately made our way back to the place we had left the car. Along the way we were able to admire the humongous number of attractions and games on offer, from inflatable castles and obstacle courses to zip lines to carnival games.

After reuniting with Gloria, Anni and la Cuca, we proceeded to try to find a place to eat. We sat down at one of the small outdoor restaurants, though not before receiving some kind of discount (we got 5 anticuchos for 5000, even though they actually cost 3000 pesos each) – again, I think Gloria and Anni knew some of the people working there (especially because we had to shake some hands before leaving). The service, however, turned out to be terrible. Our French fries arrived on time, but we had to ask about our anticuchos no less than five times. And once they finally arrived, they were still almost completely raw, so we sent them back to the grill, which of course meant we had to wait even longer. In order to pass the time, Anni ordered a terremoto (literally “earthquake”) – a traditional Chilean drink that consists of pineapple ice-cream and pipeño, an extremely sweet fermented wine – which she then proceeded to share around the table. After eating our anticuchos, which were delicious if still a bit suspect (la Cuca collected the pieces that were still very raw in a plastic bag. I thought she was going to throw them away, but when we got home later, she put the bag in the fridge and told me, oh we can cook this later. Very resourceful, my host grandmother), Gloria and Anni went to stage type area to dance the cueca. There were so many people dancing, it was amazing. It seems as if almost every Chilean knows their national dance, which is just plain awesome. Seba, at this point, wanted, being twelve, to go home and play PS3, but after some cajoling (read: bribing – his mom promised to help him move the TVs around if he danced with her) consented to dance with his mom. And he can actually dance really well too, like Benja. So can Gloria, by the way. And Anni. She and Gloria danced maybe 7 rounds. Oh and the grandmother too.  Like I said, everybody. I danced with Gloria once and la Cuca once, but when I say dancing, I mean stomping my feet and trying desperately to follow the movements of my partner, while at the same time frantically avoiding the twirling and stomping of the other Chileans around me. It was quite exhilarating. Seba took a few pictures of me with my camera, which unfortunately didn’t turn out that great because it was already rather dark and I was moving fairly quickly. But they exist! They’re proof!

By this time it was past 8, and Seba was getting antsy, as his PS3 playing time was slipping away. His mom promised only one more dance, but I told him we probably wouldn’t leave for a while. You were right, he told me mournfully, as we watched Anni and Gloria dance for a third time.

At the end, as we were getting into the car to leave, la Cuca said, “Lo pasamos super bien. We had a really, really good time.” And I couldn’t help but agree with her.

And now, while that would be a perfect place, literary technique wise, to end the piece, that’s not quite where the story ended. Because as it turns out, Gloria and Anni decided to go back after dropping Seba, la Cuca and me off back home. Anni was just a slight bit tipsy from her terremoto, which made the trip home even more hilarious, and inadvertently made a Simon Says joke (in Spanish), which both found absolutely hysterical. Then Gloria turned on the radio, and they sang along to the music. They were both very excited to head back. Seba was just excited to be able to play video games without his mother hovering around.

And I was so, so glad I had decided to forego watching soccer.

Enjoy the pictures!

Chao, that’s it for now! I hope you enjoyed my story as much as I enjoyed my evening! I may write a part three later this week, we’ll see!
Until next time!


Fiestas Patrias!

Time September 19th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

¡Hola todos!

This coming week, and the 18th of September in particular, is very important to Chileans. Although the unofficial celebrations usually last a whole week, las Fiestas Patrias really is a two day holiday, commemorating two important events in Chilean history. The 18th of September memorializes the proclamation of the First Governing Body of Chile in 1810, which started Chile’s independence process, and the 19th, called the “Day of the Glories of the Army”, honors the Chilean military. The Fiestas Patrias are often referred to as simply the Dieciocho, because that is when the holiday is celebrated officially. But as I said earlier, Chileans usually celebrate (read, party) for the entire week, and most schools and universities declare a weeklong holiday (Universidad Católica, where all of my classes are, unfortunately only grants its students a reprieve from the tedious business of learning until Thursday of next week). Traditional Chilean foods, like empanadas and choripanes are eaten, especially at the large party areas, called fondas, scattered all over the city. Fondas can be more family oriented, with children running everywhere and with more stands, shows and competitions that the whole family can enjoy  (these are usually open during the day and close at night), or more like giant carretes, where the alcohol flows freely and the music blasts loudly,  and which are open much longer into the night. It usually costs around 4000 to 6000 to enter a fonda, although of course you can always find cheaper or more expensive ones – and the entry prices sometimes vary depending on the time of day  One certain fonda, for example, costs 3000 pesos during the day, but 12,000 night. The fact that they cost money is to keep out some of the more “undesirable” elements, and indeed we were warmed that the largest free fonda can get quite danger at night. But generally that is not the case, as they are simply places where families and people of all ages can enjoy the festivities and share their pride in their country. Also, it is law that every house has to display a Chilean flag during this time (with up to an $80 fine for failing to do so, though it’s not very strictly enforced), and most Chileans put up the flag at the beginning of September (at that time you could see them springing up everywhere). It’s also a national work holiday, which means practically everything is closed. We ate all the bread at my house (my host mom had bought a lot before las Fiestas Patrias … but we are hungry people, my host family and I!), and she just told me that she would try to find some place selling bread, without much hope in her voice.

Also important to Chileans is the day exactly a week prior to el Dieciocho, the 11th of September, which marks the anniversary of the coup d’etat of 1973 that removed Salvador Allende from power and ushered in the Dictatorship that would last until 1990. On this day, various groups usually hold a number of demonstrations, which tend to be of the rather hairy type. In fact, both IFSA-Butler and the Foreign Student Organization of Universidad Católica recommended going home between 4 and 5 in the afternoon and then staying there, in order to avoid the unrest. I followed their advice, going home earlier than usual (though my real reason was so that I could watch the Austria vs. Germany soccer game, shhh don’t tell anyone), and not venturing out at all the rest of the day. This was a smart choice. The next day I found out that 255 people had been arrested, and one police officer had been shot to death, with a further 26 wounded.

This Wednesday I had the luck to be able participate in Universidad Católica’s Fiesta de la Chilenidad at Católica’s San Joaquín’s campus, where most of my classes are. As it was in the sports area of the campus, my soccer class was cancelled, a fact that also gave some time to actually spend at the festival before my 2 o’clock class halfway across the city. As you can see in the pictures, there were quite a lot of people there. It had a very carnival like atmosphere, and the soccer field on which it took place was ringed by little stands where you could play games – I saw my soccer professor (feels weird to say that, I must add) leading one of those games where you try to kick a soccer ball through holes cut into a tarp – buy empanadas and chorpipanes. There was a big stage too, where various music groups were playing, and some dance groups preformed traditional dances. There was also a lot of cueca – the Chilean national dance – to go around. They even announced a cueca workshop that I was unable to attend because I had to leave for my class at Campus Oriente.


On Saturday, I went to a real, official fonda (in fact, it was the official one of Providencia, the comuna of Santiago in which I live) in Parque Inés de Suárez, a park only 15 minutes from my house. I had often walked past it when on my way further into the center of the city, but I never realized how large it actually is. The place was packed with people, and the fair itself actually spilled across the street onto another green space. It cost 2700 pesos to enter, which is rather cheap compared to others I have heard about. It was really nice, with lots of stands selling traditional Chilean crafts and other artisan goods along with plenty games for kids and a smorgasbord of places to eat. Empanadas were ever present, of course, but one section of the huge park was filled to the brim with little make-shift pastry shops. Although I didn’t really have any money with me to spend (I was there mainly for the atmosphere and to check it out; it was my first fonda after all, I wanted to see what it was like. Plus, it’s open until the 19th, so I have plenty of time to back, which I may just have to), it certainly made my mouth water. I met up with some people from IFSA-Butler and we made the rounds, perusing the goods the venders had to offer. It was a lot of fun to see everything on offer, especially because it was all of such high quality. There were plenty of leather products for sale, along with many things made of copper (Chile’s “traditional” metal – its biggest export), and a surprising number of knitting needles and yarn. On a large green space – where there was also a stage set up, where a cueca dancing competition was going on – there were children flying kites. All in all, it was a great experience, and it was really cool to see all the Chileans celebrating their history. I hope the pictures can give you an idea of how popular – and how fun – this fonda seemed to be!


Also, my host brother Benja (the younger of the two) danced the cueca in a competition at his school. I was unable to go watch him, even though I wanted to very much, because I had class, so he decided to dress up in his cueca outfit the day before, so that I could what it was like. And I must say, it was pretty bacán (cool)!  For the cueca, Chilean males usually dress up as a huaso, or Chilean cowboy (whose Argentinean equivalent is the gaucho). Only the most dedicated (which is what Benja is. He’s really good, or so the family has been telling me) actually dress themselves all the way up because the clothing can be quite expensive. Benja told me that the most expensive piece of the ensemble is the hat, followed closely by the boots and spurs. Oh and he got second place. Nice, right?



That’s all for now! I might write another shorter post this week, because I am planning on visiting some museums during my time off from school and will definitely bring my camera along!




P.S. I finally got my Tandem partner! Tandem is a program through the Católica where foreign students are partnered with Chilean students of the university, as a sort of conversation buddy type of thing. The foreign student pledges to help his or her partner with a language that student feels at ease communicating in, and the Chilean student pledges to help with his or her partners Spanish. I had gotten a bit worried because the other IFSA students here had already gotten their partners quite a bit earlier, but upon meeting my Tandem, I found out that was probably because he actually only came back to Chile toward the end of August, as he had studying abroad in Germany. His full name is Hans Wolfgang Schlechter Stecher, but he usually goes by Hans Schlechter. He is a Civil Engineering student in the last year of his studies. After graduation, he wants to work in Germany, which is why he is learning German. His very German name is explained by the fact that his great grandparents on his father’s side only came from Germany just before the Second World War, and that his mother’s side of the family has Austrian roots (though they go much further back – his great-great-great-great grandfather, a lawyer, came to Chile in the 1820s.). His parents, unfortunately do not speak German, but they did give both of their sons very German names (his brother’s name is Rudolf). I’m excited to help him with his German, and I hope that he can help me improve my Spanish!

P.P.S. I really wanted to include some videos I took of some traditional dances and music, along with a group of people dancing the cueca, at the Fiesta de la Chilenidad, but the uploading is taking forever, and the internet is a bit spotty, and I have to start from scratch when it goes for even a little bit. I hope you do not take too much offense! The pictures are scant comfort, I realize, but I hope you enjoy them all the same!



A Valpo!

Time September 5th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

¡Hola todos!

So this Saturday we went to Valparaíso, with a little jaunt over to Viña del Mar toward the end of our stay for coffee and a chance to gaze reflectively out at sea, to listen to the soothing sound of waves crashing against rock (we were thwarted in both endeavors, unfortunately. There was a rather opaque white curtain blocking the view, and Adele was delighting the café patrons over the loudspeakers). Also, by the time we got there, the day, which had started awesomely, weather wise, decided to become a bit more dreary, so sitting outside wasn’t an option. But that was at the end, and I still haven’t told you about the middle or the beginning, which means that once again I am getting ahead of myself. Disculpa, I’ll try to continue in a more chronological order.

The two cities are actually only 9 kilometers apart and have grown closer and closer over the years, ever since Viña came into being, in the 70s, as the place to which all porteños (as people from Valpo are called, because it is a port, you see) that had a bit (or a lot) of money began to flee. They were joined by more affluent santiguinos wanting to escape the press and bustle of the city and capture a little of the sea air. Because of this, Viña was at its found, and still is, a much richer city than Valpo. Although the city is the seat of the Chilean Congress and acts as Chile’s most important port, Valpo, and its 300,00 inhabitants distributed over 42 (or more, depending on whom you ask) hills, is rather poor. It’s more well-to-do citizens live in Viña, only coming to Valparaíso to work. Our tour guide even told us that the city literally does not have a wealthy class, or wealthy part of town. Valpo is filled almost entirely with people belonging to the middle and low-middle class, for whom it is unfortunately very difficult to escape. They are only able to find some relief via the tourism industry. Regrettably, our tour guide also told us that tourism is mainly handled by foreign or Santiago based companies, so the porteños see remarkably little of the money. What they do see usually comes via small hotel, hostel or bed and breakfast type enterprises, of which we saw many on our walk through the city.

Valparaiso itself was never actually officially founded. The Spanish came to the area looking for gold, didn’t find any, and promptly left. Over time, the city simply grew spontaneously, without real rhyme or reason. It’s made up of the hills, as I mentioned above, and the flat part, near the ocean, which the porteños call el plan. Out tour guide stressed that, unlike Santiago, Valparíso doesn’t have a centro, or even a central plaza. Instead, el plan serves that function. It’s where most of the businesses are and where most people work, returning again to the hills (called cerros in Spanish, I realized I forgot to mention that) at night. Most porteños use either the long twisting, highly inclined roads, the just as twisting and steep stairs or the acensores – the word literally means elevator in Spanish, but they are actually more like funiculars – to reach their homes. Our tour guide joked that porteños have the strongest leg muscles in Chile because of their constant walking up and down the hills that make up their city.

But I’m getting ahead of myself yet again. We left Santiago around 9:30 in the morning and arrived in Valpo around 11:30. Our first stop was la Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s house in Valparíso, which is near the top of one of the hills and has an absolutely amazing view of the city and the ocean. Unlike la Chascona, which one could only view on a guided tour, la Sebastiana was a bit more relaxed. On the ground floor we were giving an audio guide, along with a map that told us what numbers to type in on each floor. Speaking about floors, la Sebastiana has 5, although none is very large. That is actually a characteristic of houses in Valpo: they often seem to be simply built on top of one another, with a different family inhabiting each floor. Also, another thing about the houses there: they are all painted in different, and very bright, colors. The idea was that in the past, when Valparaíso was a bustling port, when the sailors returned home from their long journeys, they would be able to identify their house from afar. Another thing about the houses (it’s the last, I promise! I can’t help myself, it’s all so interesting!): Valparaísan houses are usually covered in zinc siding, which ships from Spain used to carry back as ballast (having emptied all of the resources torn from the South American soil on Spanish shores and having little else to carry back). It serves to protect the adobe, from which houses there are traditionally built, from the salt in the air. Anyways, returning to Pablo’s crib. It was really nice. And it was also very relaxing to be able to simply walk about and to look at everything as carefully – or simply slowly, in my case – as one wanted. The view of the sea which every floor had – and which I already mentioned but will mention again because it was so astounding – also helped things.

After la Sebastiana, we walked down Cerro Alegre (the Happy Hill), so named because the people that come from there have a reputation for being happy (no, seriously). There are a lot of very pretty and very fascinating murals and other art works on the walls, which made the trip a joy. All in all, we walked around the hill for about an hour, before we went down to el Plan via one of the acensores (on our way there we walked past the oldest one in the city, which has been running since 1883!).  After eating lunch on one of the outlook platforms – the most famous and important,  our tour guide told us – we went down to the harbor for a short scenic boat tour. I, much to my chagrin (hmm, where have you heard that before?) didn’t have my camera with me on that part of the trip, as my failure to charge it after the ski outing meant that it wouldn’t have been useful as anything but a toy for the sea lions we saw. This tour around the harbor was really cool. The fourteen of us had a rather large tourist boat to ourselves, the sky was blue and there was nary a cloud in the sky. In short, it was perfect, albeit a bit windy. It was, all in all, a very soothing and tranquil experience. After coming back to the docks, we ate ice cream (which I must confess, was actually my second ice cream within an hour and a half or so. On top of one of the hills I bought a Magnum White Chocolate Raspberry ice cream in a little shop) at a small fast-food type restaurant (which I am pretty sure is a chain, because I saw another one on the way to Viña) where the scoop sizes were simply humongous. I got Chocolate Zurich (which wasn’t actually chocolate, white or black) and something else whose name I didn’t quite catch (but I ordered it anyway, after the guy working the counter let me taste it), both of which were scrumptious.

After this followed the experience with which I started this blog post, coffee – though I actually had hot chocolate and the three other people at my table had tea – in a café (a rather fancy one) in Viña. We left for Santiago around 5:40-5:50. On our way home it got dark and I fell asleep very contently. It had been a very good trip.

Enjoy the pictures!  Quick question for anyone reading my blog. Do you prefer it when I put up lists of pictures, or do you think this slideshow thing I’m trying out today is better? 


P.S. This is a sign pasted in the micro I use to get to la Católica and back. It says: “For your security, this vehicle begins to move only with the doors closed.” This is a lie. The drivers of the D18 line are maniacs. They, to a man, drive extremely fast – passengers are almost always trying their hardest to stay on their feet, clutching desperately at hand holds – and, most frightening, have a tendency to open the doors of the bus at least ten seconds before arriving at a stop. Going straight this may not appear to be such a problem (though it’s still hard to see how no one falls out), but the Santa Isabel, Diagonal Oriente, Doctor Pedro Lautaro Ferrer roads that form the path of the D18 buses are anything but straight. But it’s actually kind of fun, I must admit. And you can get used to it quickly. It’s just another study abroad adventure!

P.P.S Really quick: I found out today that some Chileans (and maybe Spanish speakers in general; in my Spanish class today we only talked about the Chilean case) use usted, which we always learn is reserved for relationships that are more distant and more formal, with people that they care for very much, with their girlfriend or boyfriend, spouse or children for example.  So that’s why I hear my host mom and grandmother using usted with my host brothers so often! It absolutely blew my mind!

Chao for now! ¡Hasta luego!


A journey “to the snow” and an occupied school

Time August 27th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This isn’t the long promised post about my host family – I want to include pictures with that one, to put faces to names, but my host mother, Gloria, never wants me to take her picture because she’s never ready, or so she says. Because she works so much, she usually comes home very late and always has a lot of things on her to do list then, and so she is always flustered and thinks she won’t look respectable in the photos!

But yeah, this isn’t that post. I just wanted to share quickly what I did yesterday and upload some more photos that I took the past week! So yesterday, the group went on an IFSA-Butler organized trip a la nieve (ir a la nieve is how Chileans refer to going skiing in the resorts near Santiago). We met in front of the Teatro de la Universidad de Chile by the Baquedano metro station and left around 9 in the morning. It was about an hour and a half drive to Farellones, the ski resort that was our goal. The drive there was simply amazing. And at times rather frightening. Amazing because, as you can see in the pictures, the view of the mountains is incredible, especially the closer you get. Frightening because – and I tried to take pictures of this – the road consisted of a bunch of curves (40 of them!) up the mountain, with railings only in some places. But the view more than made up for this fact. Once we got there, we were able to rent skis and ski boots (paid for by IFSA-Butler, which we always appreciate). IFSA-Butler had also paid for a ski class, but they told the few of us that had skied before that it was very, very basic, and that while we could still participate, we might find it very boring. Needless to say, we didn’t. But when we went off to ski by ourselves, we were disappointed to find that Farellones was actually a beginner ski resort, whose big brother Colorado, a proper ski resort with many more runs, was further up the mountain. There were only two lifts in Farellones – although at first we were told that there was only one – and four runs, of which we only knew three at the beginning. These runs were definitely for beginners and while it was fun, they got boring quickly. Only just before lunch did we find out that there was actually a fourth one higher up the mountain, which proved to be a bit more challenging. But speaking about lunch, the workers at a restaurant near the ski runs were nice enough to microwave our lunches for us, something that would probably never happen in the USA! All the employees in general were very nice. After lunch we skied some more. The view from the top of the fourth run, which I ended up skiing seven times, was simply astounding. Also, I forgot to mention this, but it was a perfect day. There was nary a cloud in the sky, so the mountains stood out crisply against the blue sky, and it wasn’t actually all that cold. I don’t actually have any pictures from the top of the mountains themselves unfortunately because I, being the silly, forgetful person I am, forgot my camera in the bus. At 4 we gathered together, returned our ski equipment and got back on the bus to return to Santiago. The view from the ride down was just as beautiful as on the way there.


Also, another quick story related to my previous post. Alli, a student on the program with me who lives in the same direction that I do, and I walked back to our respective houses together from where the bus had dropped us off. On the way, we passed a collegio en toma. The following pictures are of that collegio. I had passed the same collegio on Friday and had seen students collected money and milling around the building (and earlier in the week I had seen Carabineros in riot gear standing outside the same collegio), but I somehow never made the connection until I actually saw the en toma written on the gate this Saturday. This past week, collegios all over Santiago had been in toma, and on Thursday collegio students declared a paro nacional, or a national strike. In support, numerous facultades of the Universidad de Chile also struck (the Facultad de Letras had been in paro practically the whole week), although for students at the Universidad Católica, it was a day like any other. There were 14 separate marches made up of high school students through the various comunas of Santiago ., one of the largest Chilean on-line news sources, live blogged the event, which I read between my two classes that day. For the first few hours everything seemed to be going peacefully (even though the students again had not been given permission to march) but toward the end, unfortunately, some people began to throw rocks and the carabineros began to shoot water and release tear gas (or that happened first … it’s never really clear which happens first in these situations, with each side saying something different).


The first three weeks … or bits and pieces of them

Time August 22nd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

¡Hola todos!

I realize that I promised that I would write sooner, about my host family and Chilean Spanish and such things, but a lot of stuff got in the way, of which I will try to share with you as much as possible in this blog post!

So, a lot has happened in the past three weeks. I have more or less settled into the routine of living with a host family (more about them later, of course) and know my way around the city to some extent. Ok, that last part is more lie than truth – I may now know how to get to the IFSA-Butler office and how to get to two campuses of the Universidad Católica de Chile, San Joaquín and Oriente, but that’s about it. Oh and I know how to get to Bellavista, a district high in night life, fairly well. But considering it’s on the way to the IFSA-Butler office, that’s not really all that great of an accomplishment.

Side story (prepare yourselves, it’s a long one!) in relation to not knowing my way around: This requires some introduction. My second week here – the my first Monday here, to be exact – we went as a group to register our visas and to apply for our cédulas, or ID cards, at the Registro Civil in the center of Santiago. The line at the Registro Civil is insanely long. Apparently a lot of people need ID cards. Even though that day Chilean citizens and foreigners were split into two lines, we still had to wait almost two hours before we were able to go talk to the officials. Everyone else’s – all those who already had a student visa, as there were some of us who still didn’t at the time – meetings went quite smoothly. I, however, was lucky enough to encounter a problem. My last name in my passport was written differently than the name on my visa. There was an explanation for this, namely that my last name as it is written in my passport, Höllerbauer (it’s German; I’m an Austrian citizen), is sometimes difficult to reproduce because of the umlaut. Regardless, because of this, I was not able to apply for my cédula, despite having waited in line for two hours, and was told to go ask for a rectification of the visa and then come back … to do the whole process over again.

I had planned to do this on Tuesday the 7th, but having arrived at the Extranjería, where I thought I would have to ask for a correction to my visa, I realized that I did not have my passport, which was the essential part of the whole thing, containing my visa as it did. So that was a wash.

I went again on the previous Friday, and that endeavor was decidedly more successful, though not without its own hiccups. But I have come to expect that here in Chile, not because it’s Chile, specifically, but because studying in a foreign country always comes with its own snags. Mary, who was very kind in sacrificing her day to accompany me on my adventure (she knows the city, unlike me, which turned out to be a very good thing) and I first went to the Extranjería. Amazingly, we hardly had to wait in line at all (good luck that would fortunately follow us almost the entire day). There, however, they told us that we were in the wrong place, and that we had to go to the Ministry of Foreign Relations. Giving us an address, they sent us on our way. Fortunately for me, Mary knew where the address was, and so we walked there. At the Ministry of Foreign Relations, they told us to go talk to Immigration. After waiting a little (there was only one man ahead of us!), we were able to talk to an official and explain the matter to him. However, instead of changing the name on my visa to read Höllerbauer, he told us that he could only change it to Hoellerbauer, which is the international spelling of my name (and the version my family uses in the United States). This didn’t take very long but complicated things slightly because it meant that we had to go to the police again to register my visa … half way across the city. Once there, however, Mary had the brilliant idea to simply ask for a rectification of an already existent visa registration. This allowed us to skip all the lines (and the room was filled to the brim with people), we didn’t have to pay anything. With the new and improved registration card in hand we walked back the way we had come (another 20 minutes or so of walking!), to the Registro Civil. Here, Lady Luck deigned to stop shining as strongly. We had to wait in line for almost three hours before we were able to talk to an official. The official, however, turned out to be extremely nice and everything went smoothly. She told me that I would have to come back in 10 days to pick up my cédula and sent me on my way. I’m really grateful for Mary’s help because without her, I’d probably still be wandering around Santiago!

In regards to the city itself, however little I really know my way around it or not, I love it. I try to walk as much as possible, first of all because it’s much cheaper that way (the public transportation system isn’t that expensive, but using it daily builds up, and it’s amazing how much money one can spend when that money isn’t in dollars), but also because one simply sees much more of the city that way. Last week a few of students from the program and I went to a sort of gallery of old and used book stores along one of the major roads in Santiago, Providencia. They were all tiny but stacked floor to ceiling with books. Even the doors had shelves on with filled with books! And outside there were tables set up with even more books. The books there are extraordinarily cheap, especially in comparison with regular book stores here in Santiago (I saw the Song of Ice and Fire books in large form paperback for 19.880 Chilean pesos at the bookstore on Católica’s San Joaquín Campus. That’s $41). But you can only find such things if you actually take the time to walk around the city and get to know it better instead of taking the micros or subway everywhere. Plus, it’s great exercise.

Side story (much shorter, in case anyone was worried): I accompanied my hermanito Benja as he was walking the dog, Macky, this Wednesday. As we turned to keep going around the block, he asked me how I was liking Santiago so far. I responded that I was amazed at how green the city was, telling him that all the cities I knew were much drearier somehow. He looked at me askance. Then came this gem, from a 10 year old: Santiago es 80 porciento cem – no, no, es 80 porciento smog, 19 porciento cement y 1 porciento césped. (Translation: Santiago is 80% smog, 19% cement and 1% grass). But I think that’s not exactly true. The area of the comuna in which I live (Providencia) is actually very green. And it’s far enough away from the center of the city that it doesn’t really feel like you are in a humongous city.

Also, quick story about my first experience with student protests: On Wednesday, August 8th, students organized a march in order to make the government aware of their lack of satisfaction with how the government had responded (or failed to respond) to the protests of the past year. These marches usually are very peaceful and only sometimes turn violent at the end, when small groups of more militant protestors begin to throw Molotov cocktails and rocks at the police. This time, however, the students had not been given permission to march, which made the whole situation even more precarious than it usually was. Because of this, IFSA-Butler forbid us to go to the IFSA-Butler office during the day (because the march would be in the center of the city, where the IFSA-Butler office is located) and told us to inform our host families where we were the whole day. As it turned out however, the carabineros blocked off access to la Moneda (the Chilean Whitehouse), which funneled the students into the south of the city. Thus it was that I walked up the steps of the Santa Isabel metro station on my way to Campus Oriente and saw a burned out micro, broken glass everywhere, a police water gun truck and carabineros in full riot gear. Luckily enough for me, the worst had passed, in that students and carabineros were no longer facing one another. But all the street signs had been torn down and all of the traffic lights in the vicinity had been absolutely destroyed. This was especially unfortunate for me because this was the first time I was making the trip between Campus San Joaquín and Campus Oriente, and I had absolutely no idea where to go. I decided to ask a carabinero if he knew where the nearest D18 micro stop was. And here I learned a very important lesson: carabineros, so soon after battling students, are not your friends if you yourself appear to be a student. The carabinero I had asked sent me completely in the opposite direction. Only after walking the wrong way for two blocks did I realize my error. But I did eventually find my way to my class (on time too!) and am actually really glad that I had this experience. Watching the news that night I learned that in total 3 buses of Transantiago (the public transportation network) had been burned. The students really want to be heard.

Oh also, it’s slightly scary how politicized the students are here. Even the high schoolers! Just like the university students, high schoolers organize tomas (literally taking or occupation, where they occupy a place and don’t allow classes to be held) and paros (a strike, where they refuse to come to school). I read in the news on Thursday about a colegio (combination high school and middle school – I promise I will try to explain all this better at a later time!) whose students had retaken the school buildings after having been pushed out for a third time by the police. Saying that they had been given permission to occupy the buildings until at least Friday, they said that while the previous three times that they had been pushed out by the police had been peaceful, any further attempts to dislodge them would be met with resistance. I can’t imagine high school students in the USA attempting anything of the sort.

I understand that I haven’t actually talked about my host family. I will do that as soon as I get around to taking pictures of all of them! In the mean time, I guess a quick introduction will have to do. I live with a family of four – the mother, Gloria, and her three children, Camila (20), Benjamín (10) and Sebastián (12). They are all really nice. I spend most of my time at home with Benja and Seba because they are home the most (being only 10 and 12 that makes sense). They are learning English in school, and they keep trying out English phrases and words on me. It’s really funny because the way they pronounce some things makes conversing this way actually really difficult. But that’s probably what it’s like for them with me! Last Thursday I helped Seba study for an English quiz and it made me realize how little I actually remember of English grammar.

I realize this blog post is just as scattered as the last one. I’ll try to figure out a way to give them more structure. Also, I was going to put this up last week, but I think I tried to bite off more than I could chew and never finished (I more or less ran out of time due to reading for classes and other things). In addition, I have realized that it might make more sense to write shorter blog posts, more often, especially considering that a lot of this information would have been more interesting when it was more current. I promise I’ll talk more about my classes in my next post, which I promise will come sooner rather than later!

¡Hasta luego!


P.S. Here are some pictures of Campus San Joaquín and Campus Oriente (the really pretty one with all the palm trees that somehow survive during the winter) and the view of the mountains from the field where my soccer class takes place (it was a rather cloudy day. I’ll try to take better pictures this week, because it’s supposed to be nicer). There also a few pictures of my host family’s house. Oh,  and the kid holding the pizza is my host brother Seba. That pizza was really yummy, by the way.



The first few days

Time July 30th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

So, I was going to write on the first day. But that didn’t happen. And then I decided to write on the second day. But that didn’t happen either, obviously. And now it’s my fourth day here, and I am just now getting to actually writing this blog post. There’s been so much to do! We just moved in with our host families today and I have a little time to rest and relax, which I am using to do write the blog.

The first thing I noticed when I landed – or before I landed, when the pilot announced over the intercom that the temperature at the destination was 31 degrees Fahrenheit – was that it was really cold. One of the first things that Isa and Mary, the two IFSA-Butler employees that met all of us flying in at the airport, told us was bienvenidos al invierno (welcome to the winter)! And indeed, it really is winter here in Santiago. In the morning and evenings the temperature hovers around zero degrees Celsius. It’s cold enough that one can see one’s breath. As I have learned, however, it warms up quite considerably during the day. For example, on the second day we went to La Chascona, one of the houses of Neruda, and when we left the hotel we were staying in, it was very cold, so I put on a sweatshirt and a coat. But by the time we got there, after eating lunch at Patio Bellavista, it was warm enough that I actually had to unzip my jacket and roll up the sleeves of my sweater. But I realize I am getting way ahead of myself.

On the 25th, my first day in Chile, I landed at the Santiago airport, Arturo Merino Benitez, around 9. By the time I had gone through immigration, picked up my luggage and gone through customs (all of which went very smoothly), it was about 9:40. I was met by Isabel Yévenes, the resident director in Chile, who welcomed me to Chile. We waited for the other students to arrive and then were driven to our hotel, Hotel Bonaparte. We were able to rest a bit before orientation started. We learned about how to stay safe in Chile – only the section about earthquakes was a bit worrying, but they assured us that it wasn’t as bad as it sounded – and then about the public transportation system in Chile. In Chile, the buses are called micros and together with the metro form the major components of the Chilean public transportation system.


Una micro!


The sign for the Metro here in Santiago.

For the metro, we were all given a Bip! card, which you use to pay for the metro. You can put money on it like a gift card at metro stations and the Bip! kiosks scattered around Santiago and then just wave it in front of the scanners in the metro stations. In Santiago, the price per metro ride depends on the time of day: it’s more expensive during the “rush hour” times when people are going to and returning from work, and less expensive earlier and during the middle of the day. After orientation, we had a very nice dinner at the hotel, after which I and a few other students went to buy some supplies at a grocery store. It was my first experience with the Chilean currency, the peso!

Oh, side story. I exchanged money at the airport at 467 pesos per dollar. But on the first day, we all went to a part of the city where there were many places to exchange money … and there the exchange rate was 490-491 pesos for a dollar. Very vexing.

On the second day we saw a bit more of the city. In the morning we walked to the Providencia (the name of the region of Santiago in which our hotel was) campus of la Universidad Autónoma de Chile – one of the universities at which we can take classes – where we were given a general orientation. They informed us of all the activities we can participate in, as well as giving us Autónoma backpacks.  img_0786 img_0806

From there, we used the metro to get to the Plaza Italia, one of the largest open spaces in Santiago. img_0833

We went to the Patio Bellavista, which is a series of restaurants and shops, all in a rather small area. img_0845

After eating lunch we were able to wander about around admire all the wares, before leaving for la Chascona. On the way there, we passed a lot of colorful houses and some very beautiful murals, like this one in the street leading up to the house:

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La Chascona, which is at bottom of San Cristobal – but more about that later – was a house of Pablo Neruda’s that he had built for Matilde Urrutia, his lover and eventual third wife. La Chascona, we were told, comes from the indigenous word for wild hair, which described Matilde perfectly. The house was built in various stages and so has a rather disorganized appearance, but the view of the city is amazing and the house itself, along with its gardens, is very, very beautiful. The interiors of the house are very small because Neruda wanted it to feel like a boat, an effect enhanced, during his time, by the no longer functioning water channels that would give inhabitants the appearance that the house was rocking.

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After our tour of la Chascona, we went up to San Cristobal, one of the largest hills in Santiago and from which one can see almost the entire city, by funicular. img_0937 img_0942

The view from the top is simply breathtaking. Though the famous – or rather, infamous – Santiago smog hid most of the Andes from view, they were simply too massive to be kept hidden entirely, their white, snow bedecked peaks visible through the white fog. img_0954 img_0958 img_0960 img_0971

From the viewing area we walked up the steps to the statue of the Virgin Mary. From there, the highest point of San Cristobal, the Andes appeared even more impressive.

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Side story: Must of the public bathrooms here cost money. The ones at Patio Bellavista cost 300 pesos, and the ones at the foot of San Cristobal cost 150. It’s not very much, but it’s something to be aware of!

On the third day, we sat inside most of the day, listening presentations about how to register for classes at la Universidad Católica and la Universidad de Chile, two of Chile’s largest universities. It is very different from how registration works in the USA! First, it’s probably a good idea to give a short introduction to the Chilean education system in general.

First, a brief history of Chilean universities. Unlike most America universities, whose various colleges were always under the umbrella of their respective universities, the various schools (called facultades) of the large and older Chilean universities only came together after they had been operating as independent colleges for a while. Because of this, the various facultades operate very much independently of one another. The prime example for this is the fact that various facultades start classes at different time. For example, classes of the Department of Economics at la Chile (which is what they call la Universidad de Chile) start on March 30th, but those of the Department of Social Sciences begin on August 6th.

In Chile, students attend university for 5 years. Unlike in the United States, where students can decide more or less exactly what they want to study at college and can even change their areas of studies, in Chile, the students are stuck in the Carrera that they test into after completing high school. Although this is been changing slightly recently, Chilean students generally have to take specific classes each semester in order to graduate on time. If they miss, or fail out of, a class, which is only offered once every year, they have to wait a whole year before being able to take it again, setting back their education a significant amount of time. If that class never happens to be offered again, they actually have to switch schools and start all over again in order to be able to do that. Also, because of the independence of the facultades, registration is rather complicated for international students. Chilean students have an assigned set of classes they have to take, but for international students who can take classes at all, or at least most, of the facultades, registration involves going to the secretaries of each facultad (which are scattered all over the city) and then asking the secretary to sign oneself up for all the courses one is interested in. For us international students there is a “window-shopping” period, in which we can see which classes we like, if we can understand the professor, and if the work sounds doable.

This weekend, we have to make a list of 10-15 classes that we would like to take at la Chile, 10-12 classes we would like to take at la Católica, 6-10 classes that we would like to take at la Autónoma and 6-10 classes we would like to take at Diego Portales, another private university. We aren’t going to sign up for all these classes, obviously, but it’s just to give us a starting place from which we can begin to eliminate options.

That evening, we went to a humongous restaurant called los Buenos Muchachos. It really was enormous and actually quite cold! But the food was delicious and there was live entertainment with a band and singers. The place had a very festive atmosphere, which was awesome. At the end, everyone got up and danced to the music and had a great time.

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I was going to write a bit about my host family (today is just my second day with them!) and my first experiences with Chilean Spanish, but I will leave that for a later blog post because most of you have probably already stopped reading anyways! I realize this blog post has a very rambling nature to it and is extremely long, and I’m very sorry! It’s just that there is so much to say! And it’s really my fault for not writing earlier. I’ll try to write about my host family soon, but until then, ¡chao!



Santiago, Soon

Time July 23rd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

Hey all, my name is Simon Hoellerbauer and I will be studying in Chile – in Santiago, specifically – this semester. I am a Modern Languages (Russian and Spanish) and Political Science double major at Kenyon College. In less than a week, I will be in Chile to start orientation, and I don’t know what to feel, really. The 24th – the day I leave for Chile – is coming ever closer. I am tremendously excited, that I do know. I can’t wait. The anticipation is thick enough to cut with a knife, if you’re into mixing clichés. Or clichés in general. But I’m nervous too. While I have been abroad before, this is still the great unknown for me. I technically know what to expect, or I should, at least, considering the excellent information with which IFSA-Butler has provided me. But I don’t really. I know that I have picked a great program, and I am really looking forward to taking classes with Chilean students and to getting wrapped up in the culture, but I’m still a bit weary on how it will all turn out. I have been trying to prepare myself for this day for a while now, but life has a way of keeping one busy, making that difficult. I still haven’t fully grasped, I think, the reality that I will be leaving home for five months to live and study in a foreign country.

But enough about that and on to more entertaining things. I am definitely taking too much with me. I have already packed two suitcases and stuffed a backpack full of odds and ends that I may or may not need, and I keep stumbling across things that I think would be a great idea to take with me. Considering there are few days to go before I leave, I am worried that I’ll end up carting a truckload to the airport. Everything just looks so useful!

I’m also frantically trying to brush up on my Spanish, which I haven’t spoken since I went home for the summer. I worked as a RA for a German language academy this past month and simply never got the chance to practice. I’ve also heard that Chilean Spanish is very fast and uses a lot of words different from those usually taught in college Spanish courses, My sister, who studied in Chile when she was in college, also gave me a book of Chilean Spanish vocabulary, which I have been leafing through a lot these past few days, trying to pick up as much as possible. I’ll be able to tell you all about how much that helped me in a few days – or maybe a few weeks!